A panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean

This is the first war I undergo as a mother, and motherhood makes all the difference. The juncture in which the commitment to my children’s well-being encounters the rockets that endanger their lives is the place where I care only for myself and my own. When the sirens wail and the rockets fall I’m willing to kill those who endanger my children’s lives.

In “Vietnam” Vislava Shimborska suggests that a mother is indifferent to politics, knowing only her children, ignoring everything else:

“Woman, what’s your name?” “I don’t know.”
“How old are you? Where are you from?” “I don’t know.”
“Why did you dig that burrow?” “I don’t know.”
“How long have you been hiding?” “I don’t know.”
“Why did you bite my finger?” “I don’t know.”
“Don’t you know that we won’t hurt you?” “I don’t know.”
“Whose side are you on?” “I don’t know.”
“This is war, you’ve got to choose.” “I don’t know.”
“Does your village still exist?” “I don’t know.”
“Are those your children?” “Yes.”

However, indifference breads evil. Sometimes you have to choose sides in order to ensure your children’s survival in the broadest sense of the word. Taking this newly discovered murderous instinct to its end might mean that my six-year-old son will have to go to war in the not-so-far future in order to protect a new generation of Israeli children.

In “In Praise of Feeling Bad about Yourself” Shimborska writes:

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?
Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.
On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

I do not wish to be an unscrupulous panther. And yet, I do not wish to live under constant threats of rockets. Uncompromising statements such as “the solution to this conflict is the destruction of Israel” make me wonder whether peaceful ideals should be put aside while the war is raging. Dead people with clear conscience do not sign peace agreements.

I have no clear solution to offer. I write to explore the meaning and implication of this complex situation in which nobody is an entirely free agent, yet no-one is an absolute victim.

[Both poems were translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh]

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